FICTION: Chapter 18 Temple (Complete, First Draft)

18: TEMPLE

Robbie

Day 9

Today I threw actual shit at her, screeching. I’d been reading my notebook, and there was that Future Bastard bit about the temple with the monkeys and the shit. It seemed perfect. I’m eating nothing; I’m on hunger strike. I’m cooperating with nothing she wants me to do. I won’t eat; I won’t speak; I won’t even wash. I am drinking water, but that’s it.

The hunger is like a massive animal in the room with me, getting bigger, squeezing me into corners, crushing me. I’m hungry all the time. Sometimes I could eat the curtains on the windows. I could suck the skin off my fingers. I could eat soap. But the urges pass. I can move on for a time.

Then some bastard next door decides to have a barbecue, and I could murder ten people and no jury would convict me. Onions, grilled onions!

Day after grinding day of it. Hunger makes time slow right down. You can feel each particle scrape past, as if in one of those military parades where the troops are in precise formation and they go slow as they pass the stand with the commanding officer, sabres up, eyes left, each hunger particle desperate for a moment of eye contact with the big cheese.

But the thing is, hunger is one of the most powerful political protests. Governments hate hunger strikes. The refusal of food is a profound rejection of society, of everything. You have nothing at all to your name, but you do have one agency left, one degree of freedom, and with it, and a small bit of media attention if you’re lucky, mountains can be moved.

I have said nothing to Fiona since that first night when I asked her about Zonk. How I hated her then. How I made my plans in that moment! And one of my plans was simple civil disobedience. No cooperation. Nothing. I wouldn’t attack her. I would just lie there like a body of water. A lump of plasticine. She could attack me all she liked, but I would not retaliate.

But there was the shit incident. It was the moment when principled, high-minded, cerebral civil disobedience gave way to way to open hostilities, to a state of war.

Fiona had not been appreciating the finer points of civil disobedience theory. She continued bringing me meals and clean underwear. She continued trying to engage me in conversation. She chatted generally about the world outside. President Trump sounded terrifying. The Australian government sounded no better. I never thought an Australian government would preside over a set of concentration camps, but they seemed to be doing just that. In my own time tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugee boat people were welcomed, no question. They were people who needed our help, so we helped. That was my country.

The days were hard and long. Hunger takes ages. It wears on you, literally eating you alive, from within. I will lose some weight like this. Yay.

Fiona is getting angry as time passes. “All you do is write in your precious bloody book!” she says, and I make a note of her comment. “Do you really have nothing to say?” And I just flash her a big smile, and she hates that. She swears at me and storms off.

It does occur to me that she might try to take my book. It’s the only serious counter-move she has, short of personal harm to me, something else I worry about. How angry about her Rob is she? How far is she prepared to go to prosecute her case against him for what he did to her, leaving her behind, all alone like this.

Her Rob was a grown version of me. He had received an intervention from a Future Bastard, same as I had, that changed his life, but for the worse. He lost all stability. He grew up, but wound up having a breakdown, going to hospital, but afterwards his depression drove him to death, even though he was involved with Fiona. She wasn’t enough. Love wasn’t enough. His parents’ love wasn’t enough. The illness won.

I had no real problem understanding Fiona’s point of view, or her anger. I just didn’t see what having a gormless laundry sack like me on the premises was meant to achieve. Was this so I wouldn’t do to my future Fiona what her Rob did to her?

Why didn’t this Fiona and my Future Bastard maybe consider going out for coffee and seeing what might happen? It was a crazy idea, but crazy ideas sometimes were just crazy enough to work!

Day 7, Fiona started tearing pages out of the notebook, in front of me. She said if I was only going to talk to the book, she would take the book away. If I protested, she would hit me with the Taser as she did on the first day. I needed persuading, but she needed no encouraging. By the time I was conscious again, lying curled on the floor in my too-tight undies, twitching, my body made of burning pain, she had torn every page from the notebook. Every single page. All of Dad’s pages, and all of Future Bastard’s as well. She was collecting them up, ready to burn them, which she did, in a metal bucket. They made huge, gaudy flames that approached the low ceiling. She had me covered with the Taser while I watched.

She laughed, behind the leaping, pungent fire, as she watched.

That night, numb, traumatised, silent, unable quite to believe what I’d seen, I had to go to the toilet. I had to take a dump. I’d not been eating a lot, so dumps were infrequent. This one was hard and dense, but plopped and splashed readily enough–

And an idea was born.

The next morning, on the dot of nine, her cheery voice at my room’s door–“It’s just me, with breakfast!”–followed by the bleep and chunk of the lock disengaging, and there she was. I had the merchandise in bed with me, in a container leftover from a previous meal. I watched her move through her usual moves, putting the tray in the usual place on the desk, removing the tea towel. It was the usual cereal, juice, poached eggs, toast. She’d also provided today’s issue of The West Australian.

I popped the lid of the container container with the merchandise.

Fiona came over to the bed, holding her hands together. She smiled, conveying a look of confidence. She suspected I was finished with my little protests now. She imagined she’d broken my back. She’d burned my sacred book. She had me in the palm of her hand. This was more like it. She said, smiling like a smug politician, “Is there anything at all I can do for you today, Robert?”

I erupted, screeching and screaming like the monkeys in that temple, and naked like those monkeys, and I pulled out the merchandise and I flung it at her, screeching as loudly as I could, capering about as well I could, making as big and disgusting a show of it as I possibly could. I kept flinging it and succeeded in driving her, as she screamed and cried, from the room.

In her terror, she neglected to rearm the electronic lock.